Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s colour poster Divan Japonais 1893 heralded the reopening of the refurbished Montmartre café–concert. The establishment took its name from the vogue for Japonisme and this was reflected in the bamboo furniture and lanterns of its interior.
Having stunned the Parisian art world with his first poster Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, and raised the art of the poster to the status of masterpiece, Lautrec went on to create a remarkable body of posters, including Divan Japonais, for which he adopted key elements of the Japanese style of cropping, asymmetry, sinuous lines and application of flat colour.
Pictured on stage is the extraordinary cabaret performer of the times, Yvette Guilbert. In his daring design Lautrec has cropped the head of the singer, yet she remains identifiable by her signature long black gloves. Guilbert was one of Lautrec’s best loved figures of Parisian nightlife. In the audience is the bespectacled music critic Edouard Dujardin, who was a friend of Lautrec. He is wearing a top hat and holding a cane—evoking the sense of elegance for which Divan Japonais was known. The central figure is the willowy figure of Jane Avril who wears an elegant, but demure, dress and a playful hat over her brilliant red hair. Lautrec was captivated by this extraordinary and unorthodox dancer, whose performances were a far cry from the vulgarity of La Goulue.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014